It's the Final Countdown — Day-Before Planning

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ina garten butternut squash soup

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A squash colored soup in light gray bowl

©Quentin Bacon

Quentin Bacon

Take a deep breath — the finish line is in sight. You've made it this far, and will be happily sitting down to eat in about 36 short hours or so. The day before is a great opportunity to cross off a hefty portion of your to-do list. You only have one more trip to the store ahead of you for the flowers and then you're home-free to hunker down in the kitchen.

• Brine Time: To ensure a moist and flavorful turkey, we highly recommend brining the bird the day before. A simple salt-and-sugar water bath will easily safeguard you from the perils of a dried-out turkey that even gravy can't fix.

• Easy As Pie: If you've made or bought your pie crusts ahead of time, most Thanksgiving desserts can be a piece of cake. But if you're looking to cross some cooking off your list the day before, make your pies ahead of time. In fact, we even prefer pies that have had a day to sit, especially pumpkin and pecan. Just remember to take them out of the fridge 2 to 3 hours before serving on the big day — and tell your family no early taste-testing.

• Soup's On: Soups can be made the day ahead and easily reheated before serving (this will be one less thing taking up a precious burner on your stove tomorrow). Try Ina Garten's Roasted Butternut Squash Soup and Curry Condiments (pictured above).

• Snack Attack: While you want your guests to be hungry, you don't want them to be too hungry when you sit down to eat (lest they get cranky). Plan ahead for some no-brainer, not-too-heavy hors d'oeuvres to leave out for your earlier guests, which will also distract them while you finish up in the kitchen. Some simple cut-up vegetables with store-bought dip or cheese and crackers will do the trick just fine.

• Flower Power: Put the finishing (and most perishable) touches on your table and buy the flowers to finish arranging your centerpiece. We like reds, yellows and oranges in keeping with the season and find that chrysanthemums have a nice, harvest look to them. Make sure your flowers are low enough that your guests can still see each other across the table.

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